Delectable Hajia Zainab Folawiyo, popularly called Sisi Abah by family, friends and associates clocked 75 years old yesterday. The ace fashion designer and widow of the late business mogul, Alhaji Wahab Iyanda Folawiyo (Baba Adinni of Lagos) is a pace setter in fashion. Her fashion label, Labanella in Adeniran Ogunsanya and Ikoyi malls years back was a hub of beautiful kaftans, boubous, culottes pants and tops designed in African prints. Her dress sense is impeccable and especially, her lovely turban always complements her dressing. Sisi Abah is homely and very accommodating. For her 75th, she had a prayer session at her Ikoyi home to thank God for sparing her life for another year. She’s hale and hearty and also had her very close friends with her. In this interview with Sunday Sun, the style icon spoke about herself, her family, the Nigeria fashion industry and her son, Segun Awolowo, Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) boss.
By Christy Anyanwu
How do you feel at 75?
I feel the same way as I felt when I was 40, 50 and 60 years old. I’m just my very self. I have not changed at all and I thank God.
You said you’ve not changed; do you still do what you used to do years back?
Yes. I’m still my very self. I still do what I was doing when I was 40 years and 50 years. I’m still the same person.
What has life taught you as a person?
To be happy within myself, be calm and do whatever I can do. Life is beautiful; it depends on how you treat it. I think I have treated it very well.
Any memorable moments in life?
My first memorable day was when I had my son Segun Awolowo although I was very sad because his dad was no more. I had him after his father died. I’m very happy that I have him. He has been a very good son to me and my grandchildren love me dearly. Even Segun’s wife is like a daughter I never had. She has been playing the role of my daughter since she married my son. When I was 40 years, I had a big party at The Summit, which is Eko Hotel now. I hosted a luncheon for a few people and when I think back I say wow. It’s same thing when I was 50 years or 70 years. It was quiet, because we were still fasting but we had prayers, which is the most important thing in my life.
Being their only sons, most women are not on good terms with their daughters-in-law. What’s your relationship with your son’s wife like?
Like I said, Bola is the daughter I never had and I have taken her as my own daughter not as a wife and that’s the way we have been relating with each other. She treats me like her mother and I treat her like my daughter. She’s a lovely wife. If Segun hadn’t married her I don’t know what would have happened. She’s a lovely girl.
You have one child; years back did you want more children?
I didn’t even think of that. I felt that was what God gave me. That’s what God wanted me to have and he has given him to me. Supposing I don’t have any, what would do? I’m contented with my one son. He looks like a hundred sons to me. If I had many, maybe I would not be as happy as I am today. Maybe they won’t even treat me well. Segun doesn’t joke with me and I don’t joke with him either. I’m contended with all God has given me. It’s only one child and that one child is trying for me. When you have something that is lovely and good you won’t like to joke with it. Some people have lots of children and they are all useless. None of them can even stay with their dad and mum and look after them. I have one son and he does everything for me. I am lucky; I have very good stepchildren from my husband. They all love me like my own children. What else can I ask God for? I’m being pampered by all of them. They don’t joke with me, I don’t joke with them either. We are all one family under one roof. If it were another family, when their father dies, they will throw their father’s wife away, and they will treat her anyhow but they make me happy.
Some people thought Baba Adinni’s children would mistreat you after his death. Do they?
Nooo. It’s not so at all. It’s the opposite. That’s what people are looking out for. Baba Adinni was a strong man, a holy man, he raised his children properly. He brought them up nicely. His children know what their father wanted, they didn’t joke with their daddy. Whatever their father wanted was what they did. They haven’t done otherwise. They all respect their father and they know that their father loved me and they love me also.
As your only child, did you pamper Segun?
I didn’t over pamper him. He’s a lovely boy. Even if you want to pamper him he won’t allow you to over pamper him because he’s like Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He’s a strong- minded boy. He knows what he wants and he will do it right and good. He’s been a correct boy since childhood. I’m so proud I have him. May God give him long life and good health and may God give me long life and good health too to enjoy him more.
It’s like nine years since Baba Adinni died, what do you miss about him?
I miss him everyday. I wish he were around as I’m celebrating my 75th birthday. When I was 70, he wasn’t around. I knew what he promised to do for me when I clocked 70. When I think back on all these I cry. I cry everyday, thinking about my husband, because there’s nothing he didn’t do for me. He never said “No” to me.
You are a style icon. Labanella, your fashion label, is a pioneer in African prints. What’s your take on fashion?
Fashion is booming more than in our own time. Then, people didn’t appreciate made in Nigeria and that’s why I started making clothes in prints. I never stopped and all the designers in Nigeria are all using prints. Those days, they all used imported fabrics until Obasanjo banned imported clothes and that’s when prints started thriving. I started it, and I never stopped. I’m so happy; during my time it’s just sober prints I did but now they have gone so wild. Nigerians and Ghanaians are doing so well and I appreciate their creativity.
What would you want to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered as the glamorous Sisi Abah. I love dressing up, I love making my clothes and I wear them. I want to be remembered as the hard working Sisi Abah and fashionista Sisi Abah because that is one thing I will never stop being. I want to be remembered as happy Sisi Abah. I’m happy with everybody. I’m happy with every pretty lady around. I’m close to most of the designers and they all love me. They always come to me and they make clothes for me. They come to me and ask “Sisi Abah, can we dress you up?” and I say yes. When people admire me at events, I tell them the name of the designer that made the outfit. I do credit all the designers that styled me. They appreciate me and I really appreciate them too. Budding designers are working hard and the sky is their limit because I worked hard too and I’m still working now. I still have few customers I make clothes for. They won’t let me go. I still make dresses for them but not as many as I used to when I had my factory.
How do you relax?
I relax by watching Nigerian movies both English and Yoruba. I love watching Ghanaian movies too. My granddad is from Ghana. They send their movies to me and I buy them in the market too. When I don’t go out, I relax on my couch, watch movies till I sleep. Occasionally, I go out to parties with my friends. You know I have a lot of friends, but I don’t just go to any party. I attend my close friends’ parties.
You are a real traveler, where is your favorite holiday spot?
When you say I like traveling around, I don’t. I don’t travel around often. I used to travel when my husband was around because he used to go everywhere. We went on cruises. We visited South of France, America, and Dubai; everywhere because my husband liked traveling and I went with him wherever he went. These days, I do travel occasionally maybe once a year. I visit my relatives in Ghana and Cotonou but I haven’t been to America in three years now. I traveled to London last year. I travel when it’s necessary. I have seen it all my dear. There’s nowhere I haven’t been abroad. Nowhere. When I was younger, I loved traveling and maybe because I’m getting old that passion is waning but I have seen it all, thank God.
What’s your dress sense?
I love trouser suits and long dresses. I’m a Muslim, so I don’t show off my body. I wear elegant things that will complement my religion. I was covering my hair before I became a Muslim and I think it’s elegant and nice. I don’t expose my hair. For many years, I didn’t wear long hair; I just wear my Afro hair. Thereafter, I started tying turban; I have been tying turban now for how long? I’m happy people love using turban today to complement their dressing. I thank God for all that.
Are you a shoes freak?
I’m not too forcy about shoes. I wear simple shoes. Once I see a pair that complements my dressing, that’s fine by me. Not that I will look for purple shoes because I’m wearing purple dress, or green shoes because I’m wearing a green dress. When I have black shoes, which matches anything, I wear them. I can use a bag for two weeks before changing it. I don’t care.
Your mum died few years ago, what do you miss about her?
I miss her dearly. What I am today, I imbibed from her. She’s something else in fashion. We are all dressmakers in my family. Even my grandchildren, they design for me. When Labanella was thriving they sketched and I sold their works. Even my grandson is very good at sketches. My grandchildren are very artistic. My first grand- daughter is just like me. She likes fashion and she’s into fashion too.